Pitchers Dempster, Wood settle into new roles in win over Brewers

CHICAGO (AP) -- Talk about role reversals.

Converted closer Ryan Dempster was solid as a starter and got the win. One-time ace Kerry Wood, now called on to finish games, earned his first career save.

Chicago's offense, meanwhile, thawed out. Aramis Ramirez homered, Alfonso Soriano had two RBIs and the Chicago Cubs got their first win, 6-3 over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.

Dempster knows how tough the closer's role can be and as he waited for Wood to wrap it up, he could hear the crowd chanting "Kerry, Kerry" in the ninth inning.

"Part of me was nervous.. ... A couple of the pitches I turned away and stuff like that," Dempster said. "He's come a long way, battled through a lot of things to be where he was 10 years ago to be where he is now. It's pretty remarkable what he's done to bounce back."

His once promising career as a starter slowed by arm injuries, Wood made a miraculous recovery from shoulder problems last season and rejoined the Cubs as a reliever for the final two months. This spring he won the closer's role that Dempster vacated when he rejoined the rotation.

"It's been a long road," said Wood, the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year, who once fanned 20 batters in a game.

In a non-save situation Monday, Wood gave up three ninth-inning runs. He had to wait three days to atone.

"If I go out and do my job, it should be quick. Obviously it's not going to work every time. ... So you try to get comfortable and get a routine down and just go to work," he added.

"It's one inning and it's an important inning when you're out there. You just want to be sharp."

Dempster made his first start since May 4, 2005 -- his second season with the Cubs when he began the year in the rotation and then became the closer. He had 87 saves from 2004 through last season.

Surviving a shaky first when the Brewers scored twice, Dempster (1-0) settled down and allowed just three hits in six innings with two walks and five strikeouts. He won as a starter for the first time since April 16, 2005.

Dempster won 29 games as a member of the Florida Marlins' rotation from 2000-01 before his career was sidetracked in 2003 by elbow ligament-replacement surgery -- a procedure that Wood also has endured.

"Absolutely I'm proud of myself," Dempster said. "I dedicated myself as much or more than I probably ever have because I knew I had a big challenge ahead of me."

Moved back to the leadoff spot after hitting second the first two games, Soriano drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth to force in the go-ahead run and added an RBI single in the sixth to snap a season-starting 0-for-11 slump.

Ramirez was 0-for-7 when homered against Dave Bush (0-1) in the fifth to put the Cubs ahead 4-2. Bush gave up six hits and six runs in 5 1/3 innings.

The game got off to raucous start in the first when leadoff hitter Rickie Weeks flattened Cubs catcher Geovany Soto as he raced home on Prince Fielder's sacrifice fly.

Weeks, hit twice by pitches in Monday's opener, led off with a walk and moved to third on Tony Gwynn's double. Chicago right fielder Kosuke Fukudome made a strong throw to the plate after catching Fielder's fly, but Weeks knocked Soto down before he could catch the ball.

The ball rolled away and Dempster retrieved it, but his throw to Soto couldn't get Gwynn, who also raced home and made it 2-0. Fukudome was charged with an error on the throw.

"I'm not dirty, now," Weeks said. "I had zero options on that play. He was up the line. Sometimes you can get out of the way and slide, but he was straddling the line, so I had no choice."

Soto had no problem with the play during a spirited opening series between two teams that battled for NL Central title last season.

"If I'm blocking the plate, you're going go get hit," he said. "It's part of the game."

Chicago tied it in the second on Fukudome's double, which left fielder Ryan Braun misjudged, Mark DeRosa's bad-hop RBI single and Soto's sacrifice fly.

Chicago added two in the sixth when pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot doubled and Soriano dropped a soft run-scoring single to left. After Soriano stole second, Ryan Theriot greeted reliever Seth McClung with an RBI double.

Fielder had an RBI single off Carlos Marmol in the eighth.

Game notes
Gwynn left before the bottom of the sixth with a tight left hamstring as a precautionary measure. He said the injury wasn't severe. ... Fukudome finished his first major league series 4-for-8 with four walks.